Christine Blower

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Christine Blower (born 1951) is the eleventh General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, a trade union representing qualified teachers across England and Wales.

Early life[edit]

Her father was a miner in his younger days in the north east of England, and then a GPO engineer, as well as a Labour supporter.[1]

She grew up in Kingston upon Thames and attended Tolworth Girls School,[2] a bi-lateral school where she was educated in the grammar stream.[3] Having contemplated a career in law or probation work, she instead trained as a teacher.

Teaching career[edit]

In 1973 she took her first teaching post at Holland Park School, a comprehensive in Kensington & Chelsea which was then part of the Inner London Education Authority. There she taught French.[4] At the time of her arrival the school had changed from streamed teaching to mixed-ability teaching, a style of teaching she prefers as it does not “create the sheep and goats situation that comprehensives were set up to avoid.”[5] Her daughter Sophie later attended the school.

In 1980 she became Head of Modern Languages at St Edmund’s Secondary School in Fulham, then Head of Department at Quintin Kynaston School in the borough of Westminster in 1983.

With the threatened break up of the ILEA, Christine Blower moved back to Hammersmith & Fulham in 1990 and concentrated on working with young teenagers at risk of care or custody, by means of a job at Farm Lane Adolescent Resource Centre.[6] After its closure she was redeployed as a member of the local authority's Behaviour Support Team. As she explained in 1997, "The brief of the team is to try and deal with the behaviour in order to calm the children down, get them focussed in on tasks so they can stay in the mainstream."[7]

National Union of Teachers[edit]

Christine Blower joined the NUT at the start of her teaching career. Between 1986 and 2004 she held various posts in the West London association, including Secretary.

She was elected to the National Executive of the NUT between 1992 and 2000.[citation needed]

Other positions include National Vice-President in 1996 and then the 125th National President of the NUT from 28 March 1997 to 10 April 1998, succeeding Carole Regan. Blower used this platform to argue for a greater role for teachers in the running of Pupil Referral Units and for "properly resourced nursery provision".[8] She was a critic of grammar schools, SATs and the schools regulator. Of the latter, she argued that "much of what people have to do for Ofsted is an utter waste of time."[9]

Blower failed in her election as General Secretary in 1999, with incumbent Doug McAvoy re-elected by a 17,000 majority.[10] She was later elected Deputy General Secretary on 28 January 2005 under his successor Steve Sinnott.[11]

After the sudden death of Sinnott while in post[12] she became Acting General Secretary on 5 April 2008,[13] and led the union’s first national strike in two decades – over teachers’ pay – a fortnight later.[14]

On 5 May 2009 she was elected unopposed as the first woman General Secretary of the NUT.[15]

In February 2013, inline with the NUT, Blower was among those who gave their support to the People's Assembly in a letter published by The Guardian newspaper.[16] She also gave a speech at the People's Assembly Conference held at Westminster Central Hall on 22 June 2013.

SATs[edit]

Christine Blower has aligned herself to long-standing NUT criticisms of the standard assessment tests (or SATs) in schools, including the national boycotts led by the union in 1993[17] and 2010.[18]

Her opposition has centred on the tests' use in the compilation of national league tables, which the NUT would also like to see abolished. Blower has referred to the tests as "high stakes", with teachers under pressure to narrow the curriculum, “skewing everything to enable their pupils to jump through a series of unnecessary hoops.”[19] Addressing the Government’s position in the magazine Tribune, she wrote “Tests do not drive up standards. They just cause additional stress for pupils, teachers and parents. Teachers are continually rushing to deliver a huge curriculum that ends up unbalanced because of the pressure to reach Government-imposed targets. Many feel that they cannot depart from the restrictions of the national curriculum.”[20]

Under Christine Blower's leadership, the NUT has published its proposals for alternative approaches to assessment, most recently in conjunction with the NAHT in 2009[21] and with ATL in 2010.[22] A further document co-authored by the three unions was published in December 2010.[23]

During her Presidential Address to NUT Conference on 29 March 1997, Christine Blower reported that in the previous year her daughter Sophie had been withdrawn from the Key Stage 2 tests.[24]

She told delegates, "As a parent and a teacher, I will continue to support campaigns to rid education of blanket testing of our children." There was much criticism of this 'direct action' [25] in the press, but defending herself, Blower argued that "[Sophie] did something considerably more useful with her time than if she’d been at school during the tests." [26]

This element of her speech was portrayed by some as an example of hard left militancy. Speaking prior to the May 1997 general election, she had chosen to distance herself from New Labour. Two years later, she told a journalist that she was 'to the left of old Labour' and confirmed that she had no affiliation to any political party or group.[27] However, in 2000 she was a member of the London Socialist Alliance, ahead of the Greater London Assembly Elections. She said at the time that it "was formed to prevent disillusionment with Labour giving a new birth to the far right as it did in the 1970s."[28]

Academies and Free Schools[edit]

The NUT under Christine Blower’s leadership has been a vocal critic of the Academies programme,[29] both in its original New Labour model through to the expansions brought about by the Academies Act 2010 which favours schools rated 'outstanding' by Ofsted.[30]

Policy introduced by Michael Gove also allows for Free Schools, newly founded and directly funded schools intended to fulfil a local need and with freedoms very similar to Academies. The NUT opposes Free Schools[31] and Blower has voiced concerns that they are able to employ teaching staff without Qualified Teacher Status.[32]

Both of these types of school are outside LEA control and have the potential to make Collective bargaining more difficult.

Christine Blower has disputed the success of the Swedish system as well as American charter schools,[33] both regularly cited by Michael Gove as exemplars of narrowing the social divide.[34][35]

In a cover story for The Spectator magazine in August 2010, it was claimed that NUT activists were "bullying" head teachers known to be considering academy conversion and, with it, a break from local authority control.[36]

Family[edit]

Her partner of thirty years, Dennis Charman, a teacher, is Secretary of Hammersmith & Fulham NUT.[37]

Her two daughters have taken the double-barrelled surname Charman-Blower. Sophie attended the University of Edinburgh,[38] where she acted as Edinburgh spokesperson for the Stop the War coalition.

Salary[edit]

Her basic pay was reported as being £103,000 in 2011. [39] Her basic pay was reported to have risen to £142,000 in 2012. [40] In 2013, Blower's pay rose again to £154,000[41]

Elections contested[edit]

London Assembly election

Date of election Constituency Party Votes  %
2000 West Central LSA 2,720 2.6
Date of election Party Votes  % Results Notes
2000 LSA 27,073 1.6 Not elected Multi-member party list

References[edit]

  1. ^ 'Militating Tendency' by Peter Wilby, Education Guardian, 13 May 2008
  2. ^ 'Christine Blower pays tribute to her former headteacher', Teacher Support Network, 9 December 2008
  3. ^ 'Militating Tendency' by Peter Wilby, Education Guardian, 13 May 2008
  4. ^ The Teacher, April 1997, p11
  5. ^ 'Militating Tendency' by Peter Wilby, Education Guardian, 13 May 2008
  6. ^ The Teacher, April 1997, p11
  7. ^ The Teacher, April 1997, p11
  8. ^ The Teacher, April 1997, p11
  9. ^ The Teacher, April 1997, p11
  10. ^ 'McAvoy beats hard left in NUT ballot', The Independent, 29 June 1999
  11. ^ 'Unions appoint new second in command', The Guardian, 28 January 2005
  12. ^ 'Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, has died', The Times, 5 April 2008
  13. ^ 'Teacher union leader Sinnott dies', BBC News, 7 April 2008
  14. ^ 'Teachers defend strike action', BBC News, 22 April 2008
  15. ^ 'Christine Blower confirmed as head of teaching union', The Guardian, 6 May 2009
  16. ^ People's Assembly opening letter http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/feb/05/people-assembly-against-austerity 5 February 2013, The Guardian Newspaper.
  17. ^ 'Boycott blocks tests for pupils aged 11', The Times, 31 May 1993
  18. ^ 'Sats boycott hits tens of thousands of pupils', BBC News, 10 May 2010
  19. ^ 'The pupils forced to face unnecessary hoops', Yorkshire Post, 11 March 2010
  20. ^ 'Scrap damaging SATs and let teachers do what they do best', Tribune, 19 April 2009
  21. ^ Statement by the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Head Teachers
  22. ^ Making Assessment Measure Up, NUT/ATL Joint Statement
  23. ^ Common Ground on Assessment and Accountability in Primary Schools
  24. ^ 'Teachers' leader made her child miss key tests', The Observer, 30 March 1997
  25. ^ The Times, 1 April 1997
  26. ^ 'Teachers' leader made her child miss key tests', The Observer, 30 March 1997
  27. ^ 'Goodbye, grey suits', The Guardian, 17 June 1999
  28. ^ 'Right of Reply', The Independent, 26 April 2000 (High Beam)
  29. ^ 'A call to arms', New Statesman supplement, 9 July 2010
  30. ^ 'Academies expansion in jeopardy', Times Education Supplement, 11 June 2010
  31. ^ Free Schools: Beyond the Spin of Government Policy
  32. ^ 'Free school staff need no qualifications', Financial Times, 24 October 2010
  33. ^ Speech to TUC, 14 September 2010
  34. ^ 'We need a Swedish education system', The Independent, 3 December 2008
  35. ^ 'Education Secretary Michael Gove Unveils Policy Framework For "Free Schools"', eGov Monitor, 21 June 2010
  36. ^ 'Revealed: the secret war over England’s schools', The Spectator, 28 August 2010
  37. ^ 'Activist: NUT general secretary holds views "to the left of old Labour"', The Daily Mail, 22 April 2008
  38. ^ Education not for sale
  39. ^ Strike leader's huge pay rise: 10% increase for teachers' union chief about to shut our schools
  40. ^ Unions Help Teachers Pay Less Tax
  41. ^ Boss of striking teachers union earns huge £154k

External links[edit]

Press: Interviews, Profiles and Columns[edit]

Media[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Steve Sinnott
General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers
2009-
Succeeded by
Incumbent